RUSH: Lessons on Morality and What It Means to be Human


In a dorm room in Missouri during the Fall semester of 2005, a seemingly routine incident transformed me irrevocably. I ascended a mental plateau on that very first day, off which I haven’t since stepped down.

Quite common it was, to listen to bands of varying stature each night, with the ensuing chatter - of their merits and endearing qualities - adding to the soundscape and dotting the background.

And then I was exposed to the phenomenon that is Rush, just as a child discovers how to run and be free.

It was entirely the doing of a dear friend, Martin McCuistion, if my memory serves me right. How apt, I thought much later, to be introduced to this force of polished and highly nuanced artistry, by a gay man. The usual suspects, Kyle Sandy and Bob McCullum, were also present that night.

‘The Trees’, a compositional oddity even by their standards, bellowed out from the battered speakers, as tufts of restrained smoke emerged from one end of the douche we had assembled by stuffing fabric softener into an empty roll of toilet paper. It seemed as though the maples and the oaks being described in the song, spoke directly to me. I was dumbfounded. How could one assume the perspective of flora so eloquently, I contemplated, even if they were metaphors used to drive a human agenda.

I reflected upon the gravity of what they were saying, and how they had basically given life to beings we normally associate with relative inanimateness.

All my preconceived notions on the topic of rock and metal were laid bare. I was forced to confront them, then and there. What had once in my head constituted meaningful songs seemed amateurish aesthetically, in relation to the words of these sages of song. The cogs turned swiftly in my head, and I realised that I had been presented with an alternative. A fluid shift in the established paradigm had accidentally been chanced upon. Or was it a path predestined, which many who follow the progressive variety of the art form are ushered toward?


Most bands of a similar ilk entice you in stages, and never at once. The many layers of Rush’s collective persona were peeled one by one, as the varied aspects of their music came into view. At first I was overawed by their energy and the unsaid camaraderie between three stalwarts of the tradition. A week later, the actual songs had begun to beguile me. A month into this infatuation, I couldn’t help but smile wryly each time I realised how carefully and masterfully they had chosen their words. There was nothing left to be said or done. My longing unfulfilled, a willing subject of two months or so was what I had become.

On closer inspection of their lives and work, the unmistakable humility in their Canadian mannerisms became evident. Perhaps it was this that drew me ever closer to their centre, allowing me to identify and feel Rush’s pulse. Therein lies their message: of compassion, the beauty of human and all experience, finding purpose and significance in routineness, the enigma that is the natural world and the relative insignificance of our being, the asks of childhood and adulthood, the wonder of human innovation, among other themes of inclusiveness.

I had found a teacher.  A rite of passage perhaps it was, to become aware of this vehicle of knowledge. Without exaggeration, that is the exact role Rush has assumed in my life. I learnt more on that first day and since, than in all my years leading up to that critical juncture. Their didactic nature and novel approach to the realm of songwriting allowed me to transcend the rigid framework of the genre that I had formulated unknowingly.

My serendipitous discovery thrilled me immensely, as their infinite discography meant I would always have more of ‘Rush’ to listen to. Their incorporation of various musical traditions and styles over the years boded well for my need for variety.

I state all this with much confidence, as if it were clear to me from the start. It has to be said though that it is the passage of time and careful scrutiny of my thoughts that allowed me to gauge the severity of their influence.

Neil Peart

Neil Peart

From mundaneness they derive lessons of purpose and meaning, thereby providing a balm for our existential questions. Their grasp on philosophy is overwhelming, considering the fact that they are after all, a musical band. Utilitarian views have been expressed in many of their songs, where they promote the greater good for as many people as possible. At the forefront of this is their wordsmith and silent orator, Neil Peart, to whom a bit of individual attention will be allocated shortly.

Let us consider ‘Closer to the Heart’, for example. The song is succinct in its delivery, and drives home the point of embracing and feeling whatever livelihood it is that we are engaged in, without simply going through the motions and succumbing to the comfort of schemas. It emphasizes the need for a top-down approach towards the end of instilling mindsets borne of passion and sincerity. “And the men who hold high places, must be the ones who start; to mould a new reality, closer to the heart”, they proclaim. The wisdom contained in those few words would serve the world well, if listened to and understood in the correct spirit.

The practice of preaching one’s beliefs and vision for a better world often carries little weight and cannot be accepted as intended, if the behavior of those imparting the wisdom is seen to be contrary to the immense worth contained in their music and words. Oftentimes, I have found myself disappointed by the gradual discovery of incongruence between thought (words) and action, of those to whom I have lent a keen ear. Personally important and valid these rifts maybe to certain artistes, but on the surface they appear to be petty. You would expect more from people who have spoken of envisioning a world minus barriers we have imposed upon ourselves, than for them to bicker about the order in which their names ought to be credited in a songwriting partnership, or who wields ownership to a particular song, and who possesses the right to a band name-entity in order to continue performing.

Considering all of that, the example that Rush has set is one worth emulating. They have at all times maintained their sense of integrity and garnered discerning listeners the world over, minus controversy and distraction. One need not look further than their own setup, to see how objectively they go about their work, while covering some of the most personal topics possible. This outlook, which has come to define Rush, is embodied in the simple case of Neil Peart being responsible for a major portion of their lyrics. The opportunity to voice his opinion in a direct and visible sense eludes him, as their drummer. To write without being heard requires one to quell his or her ego to the fullest. Conversely, for Geddy Lee to so zealously sing words he has not penned, takes equal strength of character.  It is probably something that neither has considered too greatly, or not at all.

Such traits, as displayed by them, have taught me to remain hopeful in the quest for our better selves. Their art has reminded me to recognize the innate splendour in the most insignificant of occurrences and manifestations, for it is the only way to sanely traverse the conundrum of existence. To realise the potency of the inspiration and influence around us, is to find purpose where it may at first seem lacking.

‘Red Barchetta’ comes to mind, as I speak of noticing by way of song, the intricacies of our reality. The story pivots around a car (Red Barchetta), but it is in fact the experience being narrated that is rich and plentiful. The uncle-nephew relationship based on mutual respect, the exuberance of youth, and the thrill of rebellion are certainly palpable, as it winds its way through a tale that is very much alive. It teaches you that you can make art out of anything that moves you, even in the slightest.

Through the muse of inspiration come the sincerest interpretations of art; it is the path to self-actualisation. With this comes the burden of remaining true to our principles, and transferring that influence and inspiration onto others. If nothing else, it is this Rush has mastered. Through their medium, they invite you to question yourself. Implicit moral instruction has always been their forte, and essentially being a godless person who resents formal instruction, the lessons they impart reinforced my belief in the subjective nature of all things, and how good and bad can be absorbed through the most unconventional of sources. This is where they thrive, for they get to speak their minds without appearing forceful or obtrusive.

This knack of theirs unravels most gloriously in the ‘Fountain of Lamneth’, a composition par excellence, in all her various suites and subtle movements. Never before have I come across a song so complete, in detailing life’s journey exactly as it is, replete with discovery, elation, confusion, loss and purposelessness. Its culmination leaves you no closer to answering the big questions in life than when you started; however, the piece meanders through what it means to be human, so beautifully, that it puts you at ease about not knowing anything more.

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